Friday 19 July 2019

I’ve been flabbergasted at how quickly it’s taken off' - Dutch ice therapy classes hit Ireland

Deirdre Reynolds practicing the Wim Hof method of bathing in ice. Photo: Damien Eagers
Deirdre Reynolds practicing the Wim Hof method of bathing in ice. Photo: Damien Eagers

Deirdre Reynolds

It’s the ultimate ice bucket challenge: plunging your entire body into a tub of freezing cold water filled with chunks of ice, deep breathing your way through the pain.

Four years after the viral phenomenon swept the globe, ice therapy is cool once more.

This time, however, participants are actually volunteering to feel the fuar — and do it anyway.

Named after the Dutch adventurer who invented it, the ‘Wim Hof method’ which combines cooling the body with controlled breathing techniques, is fast coming in from the cold, after new scientific research indicated it can fortify the immune system by triggering the release of anti-inflammatory agents. Some say the research gives fresh hope to those suffering from everything from rheumatoid arthritis to depression.

But you don’t have to scale Mount Everest in your shorts or swim under polar ice like the world-famous ‘Iceman’ Hof to reap the benefits of his therapy , which are also reputed to include less stress, better sleep and weight loss, according to one of just two Wim Hof instructors who are now offering the therapy in Ireland.

Two years ago, Níall Ó Murchú was a sleep-deprived father of four young children and stressed-out digital consultant aiming to set up his own business. Today, the 41-year-old Dubliner says he’s never been more zen after stumbling upon an interview with the extreme athlete on a podcast and jetting to the Netherlands to study the Wim Hof way.  “I had spent years doing pranayama breathing, qigong and tai chi breathing,” he says. “But I remember within the first three breaths of the Wim Hof breathing, I could feel how different [it was].

“So I did a little bit of breathing and a little bit of cold, and after three days, I was in the kitchen with my wife, [and] I remember feeling full of light and energy and laughing and joking in the morning, which wasn’t the usual thing, and I thought to myself: ‘What the hell is going on here?’

“I used to wake up tired, kind of like: ‘How am I going to get through this?’ When I wake up most days now, I feel really energised.”

So convincing is the former international basketball player that I’ve somehow found myself standing in a swimsuit in a back garden in Blackrock in Dublin about to step into a huge bucket of ice. And I’m not the only one — Niall’s weekly Wim Hof classes and monthly workshops at various venues throughout the capital are booked out for the rest of this month and beyond.

“I’ve been flabbergasted at how it’s taken off so quickly,” says Níall, whose training last winter involved climbing the Czech Republic’s highest mountain, Mount Snezka, bare chested. “There’s a movement in Ireland where people are more health conscious and they want to do something about it,” he says.

“When we’re faced with something like the ice, that’s frightening to us, we go into fight or flight mode and with the breathing we learn to train ourselves to get from that into this ‘rest and digest’ mode. It’s testing your ability to relax and breathe.

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